The late, great Carrie Fisher once said, take your broken heart and turn it into art. She might not have had the immensely unsettling trauma filmmaker Jennifer Fox endured in mind when she offered up that advice, but nonetheless, Fox channeled the most harrowing series of events in her childhood into a jaw-dropping drama that will leave you devastated. It’s called The Tale. And if you haven’t heard of it yet, get ready for someone you know to stumble across it on HBO and talk your ear off.
Laura Dern stars as none other than Jennifer Fox, the confident, globetrotting documentary filmmaker who hasn’t yet realized how much searching she has to do in her own past. How many secrets she’s buried to survive, and how confronting them will change her. It’s the kind of performance that deserves every bit of Oscar buzz that hums around it, not just because is raw, but because it’s dynamic. The narrative shudders between Jennifer’s present and past in a jarring series of revelations and recovered memories. Other survivors of sexual abuse in the audience would go on to thank Fox, for explaining visually what they could never quite capture. And that response is the only commendation that matters, at least as far as this critic is concerned.
Young Isabelle Nélisse anchors the past as the young version of Jenny, so compact and sweet, but with the bravado of youth that makes us all feel older than we are. Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Frances Conroy, Ellen Burstyn, John Heard and Common round out a supporting cast that gives Dern and Nélisse everything they need to bring both versions of Jenny, and her journey into sharp relief. The Tale grips with a horrific, compelling kind of terror that arrests even as it repulses. But most importantly, it sends an essential message about abuse, abusers and the circumstances that allow them to thrive. It can happen to you, like it happened to her. It’s a truth more shocking than anything even the likes of Quentin Tarantino can make up, and a thought more chilling, Alfred Hitchcock couldn’t have dreamt. The Tale is essential viewing, and it will reach a television screen near you early this summer.